Dear Readers: Happy July 4th! Here’s a little history of the Liberty Bell:
The Pennsylvania Assembly ordered the Liberty Bell in 1751 to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, the original Constitution of the state of Pennsylvania. On Nov. 1, 1751, a letter was sent to order a bell from Whitechapel Foundry in London and to inscribe on it a passage from Leviticus: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof – Lev. XXV X. By Order of the ASSEMBLY of the Province of PENSYLVANIA for the State House in Philada.”
The bell was hung on March 10, 1753, and cracked the first time it was struck. At the time, it was thought that the bell was too brittle. Two Philadelphia foundry workers named John Pass and John Stow were given the cracked bell to be melted down and recast. They added copper in an attempt to make the new bell less brittle.
No one liked the sound, so Pass and Stow tried again. In November, the sound still wasn’t good enough, so a new one was ordered from Whitechapel. When the new bell arrived, it sounded no better than the other one, so the Whitechapel bell ended up in the cupola on the State House roof, and the Pass and Stow bell remained in the steeple.
The Liberty Bell tolled when Benjamin Franklin was sent to England to address Colonial grievances, it tolled when King George III ascended to the throne in 1761, and it tolled to call together the people of Philadelphia to discuss the Sugar Act in 1764 and the Stamp Act in 1765.
In October 1777, the British occupied Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell was hidden in the floorboards of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown. According to tradition, it continued tolling for the First Continental Congress in 1774, the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775 and on July 8, 1776, when it summoned the citizenry for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. However, the steeple was in bad condition, and historians today doubt the likelihood of the story. The final expansion of the crack that rendered the bell unringable was on Washington’s birthday in 1846.
The Liberty Bell was originally called the “State House Bell,” but abolitionists adopted it as a symbol and gave it the name “Liberty Bell” in 1837. In 1847, George Lippard wrote a fictional story for The Saturday Courier that told of an elderly bellman waiting in the State House steeple for word that Congress had declared independence. Suddenly the bellman’s grandson, who was eavesdropping at the doors of Congress, yelled to him, “Ring, Grandfather! Ring!” The story captured the imagination of the people, and the Liberty Bell was forever associated with the Declaration of Independence.
Starting in the 1880s, the bell traveled to cities around the country “proclaiming liberty” and inspiring the cause of freedom. A replica of the Liberty Bell, forged in 1915, was used to promote women’s suffrage. It traveled the country with its clapper chained to its side, silent until women won the right to vote. On Sept. 25, 1920, it was brought to Independence Hall and rung in ceremonies celebrating the ratification of the 19th amendment.
Each year, the bell is gently tapped in honor of Martin Luther King Day. On every Fourth of July, at 2 p.m. Eastern time, children who are descendants of Declaration signers symbolically tap the Liberty Bell 13 times while bells across the nation also ring 13 times in honor of the patriots from the original 13 states.
Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to [email protected], or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 Third St., Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.